The Color Wheel may very well be the biggest comedy surprise of the year. But what's most surprising about it is that it works at all. "Range-y" might be a word plucked straight from celebrity-host critiques of reality television contestants but it perfectly applies to many aspects of The Color Wheel; from the cinematography to the acting, the individual components of the film veer from brilliant to just kind of awkwardly composed at times. Yet, the things that do work here work really well.
It mostly boils down to the chemistry between the two leads, actor/director/co-writer Alex Ross Perry and his co-writer/co-star Carlen Altman. They play a brother (Colin) and sister (JR) who feebly attempt to set aside the strained nature of their relationship long enough for him to help her move out of her professor's apartment following a failed and probably inadvisable romance. The cease fire doesn't last for long. JR soon begins gleefully skewering Colin's effectively platonic relationship with his girlfriend, while Colin takes every opportunity to point out how unwanted JR is within their family.
The tension surrounding their back and forth squabbling is nearly ceaseless. It's also incredibly funny. As an actor, Perry appears intent on stuffing as many words into a sentence as humanly possible. This would be annoying in most cases. But, as Colin, his never-ending, half-mumbled diatribes offer insight into a character who, outside of his family circle, probably doesn't get listened to all that often; thus, the urgent need to cram all his thoughts into as compact a space as possible. Real people might not express themselves as Colin does but Perry's performance still registers as true.
Altman's take on JR is no less exposed. Her dreams of becoming a broadcast journalist are far out of reach; from her social awkwardness to juvenile way she carries herself, no one is going to hire JR to read the news or anything else. It's not difficult to gather that the end of her bad relationship with the professor is just par for the course. With her brother at her side, she forms one-half of a duo of misfits whose intelligence and talent goes wholly unappreciated by those surrounding them.
Every year I have people asking me about what new films I think are funny. My answer is usually that "comedy recommendations are hard," followed by a very short list of movies that I found humorous. With The Color Wheel, I've got another title to add to my chuckle list for 2012. This film has all the makings of a new cult comedy classic. It's a little rough around the edges but glides by on both charm and the crackling wit of the dialogue. And Perry and Altman display a mighty rapport here that makes them incredibly fun to watch. Surprisingly few films have as much going for them as The Color Wheel.
The Color Wheel screens at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium (in the Portland Art Museum) on Friday, June 1st at 7pm & 9pm, Saturday, June 2nd at 5pm, 7pm & 9pm, and Sunday June 3rd at 4:30pm. More info available here.
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